Lynus Clenkian: The Spirit of the Lokono Artist
Arts on Sunday
by Al Creighton
October 20, 2002
The Stabroek Arts on Sunday had a brief interview with Lokono artist Lynus Clenkian on the occasion of the Amerindian Heritage Month fine arts exhibition, Moving Circle, at the National Gallery, Castellani House.
Clenkian has emerged as a leading sculptor during the past decade and St. Cuthbert's Mission has been the virtual cultural capital of Arawak art in Guyana in recent years. This was emphasized last month when George Simon set up a centre for art in the community. But before that, the achievements of this village were highlighted in three major exhibitions through which the public discovered the important developments in contemporary Amerindian art: an Amerindian Art exhibition at the Hadfield Gallery, 1991, Contemporary Amerindian Art at the National Gallery, 1995, and Six Lokono Artists at the Venezuelan Cultural Centre, 1998. The last named showed the work of virtual students of Simon, who began to systematically train and promote artists in St. Cuthbert's in the 1980s. The 1998 exhibition was the most significant focus on the "Lokono" group to which Clenkian belongs.
According to Elfrieda Bissember in the Moving Circle Catalogue,
"The community of self-taught artists at St. Cuthbert's, Mahaica River, . . . continues to produce work which is distinctive and influential in its forms and imaginative vision. The sculpture of Oswald Hussain, Lynus Clenkian, of Richard Taylor and others, is virtually striking and resonant with symbolism, interpreting common beliefs and customs in forms often bristling with more than one focal point and in woods harvested from the forest environment.
"The painter George Simon is recognized as a leading figure in this group, the originator of a workshop in drawing and design in August 1988 which guided many of the artists then in early stages of development."
Simon explained that, thematically and stylistically, "there is really no group, as such. Their work is very individualistic. There is no theme. Amerindians work in different styles, media, concepts". For the latest exhibition, "they were joined by artists from Essequibo, Pomeroon, Kamarang."
Clenkian was born at St. Cuthbert's, October 31, 1956, started sculpting in 1986 and now has works in the National Collection. The great focus in the 1998 "Lokono" exhibition was the artists' relationship with the environment. The Moving Circle Catalogue quotes Clenkian as saying "I try to capture the spirits of birds and animals around me". He acknowledges that Amerindian fine art "is an outward visual expression of the psyche of the Amerindian."
This, however, is true of more than what is contained in the sculpture and paintings themselves. The whole process, from residence in the environment, to gathering raw material and creating the works is an experience which is organic to the identity. Sculpture is prominent in this art and Clenkian, who is a sculptor, describes the experience:
"In St. Cuthbert's, wood is getting scarce. We use woods like Banya, Dukaliballi and these are hard to get anywhere close to the village. To get wood we have to go sometimes, like nine miles up the Mahaica River. St. Cuthbert's is on the Mahaica River, and we go by canoe way up. We take axe and chain saw, we have to take sleeping gear and spend like three nights up the river. At the same time we are hunting and fishing, and we cut the wood".
This kind of immersion is what demonstrates the artist's closeness to the environment, why he can integrate art with daily living and different aspects of his existence are readily reflected in his work. There is even unintended symbolism in the way he describes the way he works and how he uses his medium.
"We use the heart of the wood"
For him, the wood has a "heart"; he refers to what he feels as the "soul" in the wood, since he uses it to carve spiritual beings and is conscious of spiritual energy in his work, which he links and associates with the environment, the spirits, the trees, birds and animals. Yet, he is also simply explaining what is the best wood and the best part of a tree to use for sculpting.
"We use the heart of the wood . . . like ebony. It is the real wood that don't die. We use takuba - the heart of the wood.
And this assumes additional meaning, too, because very often Clenkian allows the wood to direct him. A sculptor will normally carve according to the grain of his medium, but when Clenkian explains this, it is not separate from the spirituality and the existentialist closeness between artist and forest.
"We also use yarola. The piece in the National Gallery is called "The Bushman." You can see your forms them easy into it."
And for a Lokono artist who combines hunting for food with gathering art materials and for whom the forest is both spiritual and material sustenance, that is easy to understand.